History repeats itself a century after The Storm

THE horrors of Morpeth’s 2008 flood had also been seen more than 100 years previously, new research has found.

Following the most recent deluge, many residents were able to compare the devastation with their memories of the town’s 1963 flood, concluding that September 2008 was worse.

But if they had delved into the archives of the Morpeth Herald, they would have found something on a more similar scale in the reports of The Storm of October 22, 1898.

The report has been uncovered by local historians Brian Harle and Alan Davison during their research into the next Town Trail for Morpethians booklet, which is due out this summer.

With kind permission from the Herald’s former owners, the Mackay family, to trawl the archives, the pair have found a pattern of flooding throughout the town’s history.

But reports of the 1898 disaster were of a different scale.

The editorial talks of “the largest and most destructive flood seen during the last half century”, and it concludes, “Truly this October storm, in one of the driest years ever known, will be long remembered”.

The accompanying report describes continuous rainfall for two days before a dramatic rise in the water level of the River Wansbeck, which eventually overflowed its banks.

In Low Stanners the water was five feet deep in houses and “sick persons had to be carried from their beds”.

Damage was done at the Wansbeck Flour Mills and the Feeding Stuff Depot, as well as in Bennett’s Walk and Tenter Terrace, where “the wall in front of Mr. A Watson’s house was laid flat”.

The report continues: “Considerable lengths of quay walls were carried away at Spring Gardens, the Willows, Beechfield, the Waulk Mill Field and at the East Mills, where fences were broken down and the gardens left covered with a deep coating of debris and sand.

“Tripe preparer Mr T Proudlock suffered greatly when the covering of the disused shaft of the Bessie Gray pit at his Job’s Well Close premises was ripped off by the force of the flood and the water rushed down, making a whirlpool that cut a wide cavity in the ground. Mr Proudlock’s light trap cart, watch dog and ten pigs were carried down.”

The east road between Waulk Mill Field and East Mills was blocked and damage was caused to Sanderson’s Bridge and Quarry Drift Bridge. The wooden temporary bridge at Sheepwash was badly damaged for the second time in six weeks.

In November 1901 there was another flood report, describing its impact on High Stanners, Low Stanners, Bennet’s Walk and East Mill, while the Skinnery, or Sanderson’s Bridge, was carried away.

Mr Davison said: “It is all in the Morpeth Herald. There were regular floods and so often the descriptions are the same as the 2008 flood.

“The same places are affected — High Stanners, Low Stanners and Middle Greens. It is staggering how similar the 1898 flood is to the recent one.

“It is describing the same thing. They said the 2008 flood was a one-in-a-hundred-years event — it is almost true.

“Everybody knew the area flooded, but the town needed houses and the council owned the land so it got permission to sell it off to build houses. They deliberately built houses where it floods.

“We didn’t know about any of this before, but we are up to 1901 in the archives now and we are coming across these floods all the time.”

The Town Trails for Morpethians were first published by retired Deputy Head Alec Tweddle in the 1980s after years of research following his retirement from King Edward VI School.

Designed as short walks, they detail the history of Morpeth on a street-by-street basis, with maps and pictures, but they sold out immediately on their release.

In 2004 Mr Davison and Mr Harle decided to embark on a mission to re-publish the guides and make digital copies.

As well as using Mr Tweddle’s original material, they have added extra information from their own research and updated them.

The pair are now working on the final two booklets of the series.

The ninth, covering Stobhill, should be in shops by August, and the tenth, covering The Common and Newminster, is expected to be available from November.